The cat is out of the bag. In the last five years government departments have taken approval for zone change of 44,95,930 square meters cultivable land to settlement/industrial. While the builder mafia continues to destroy Goa with “illegally” approved mega projects under the guise of PDAs and the Regional Plan, the State government is not far behind in destroying mother Goa. There isn’t an iota of doubt of the builder-politician nexus in illegal conversion of land, be it the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress or any other party.
When the entire State has been up in arms over illegal constructions and conversions, beginning from the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) agitation in the mid-2000s, the State government converting huge tracts of land is questionable. TCP Minister Vijai Sardesai, who is already facing flak over PDAs, justified the conversion of land by the government saying the projects are in the interest of the people. “Government projects are in public interest and for that we have to go for conversion of land wherever required,” Sardesai said.
He further stated the government has no option other than to convert agricultural land. “We have no option. Conversion becomes compulsion because of pressure on settlements. You tell me, you don’t need projects like bus stand, hospitals, grounds, panchayat house, etc? They are public projects and we have to act as per people and State demand,” he said.
However, while Sardesai’s submission is that the projects are in public interest, the question that needs to be asked is why five star projects or tourism infrastructure projects are allowed by converting sensitive zones? Tourism Department got permission for change of zone of 14,800 sq meters of land for “enabling world class tourism infrastructure in Anjuna”. It is common knowledge that the department wants to build a five star hotel there through Goa Tourism Development Corporation. Besides, the department has got a zone change of about 35000 sq meters in Priol. Why Priol?
While the conversion by Education Department for new schools is justifiable, why conversions for huge panchayat buildings? Industries Department is the biggest converter of land from orchard/agriculture with 15,73,025 sq mts of land conversion since 2013. Most of these land conversion has been for setting up or expansion of industrial estates at Shiroda, Sirsaim and Tuem. Information and Technology department is second in line with conversion of 10,55,953 sq meters for the Electronic City at Tuem and IT Park at Chimbel. Can the government answer as to how would the State benefit from this? How many jobs will be given to Goans? How much tax would be earned? If land is given to industries to bring in more migrants and increase pressure on already stressed resources, Goans need to rethink.
Surprisingly, Goa Police too is in the list of conversion of land of 7,37,199 sq meters for building of IRB campuses at Pernem, Poinguinim and Quelossim. The department does need a big place for training and accommodation of police personnel but do they really require seven lakh square metres of land? We need to ask Mr Sardesai, when a world class or India’s biggest Mopa airport can come up to handle 30 million people in a year in just over 3 lakh square meter why does Goa police require to convert 7 lakh sq meter of land?
Similarly why do panchayat ghars or complexes need thousands of sq meters of land to be converted? It is high time Mr Sardesai’s TCP department clears government department proposals on merit and not just by who the minister holding the particular portfolio is.
Development is needed, projects like sewerage, water pipelines, roads etc are the need of the hour but buildings at the cost of agriculture are not required. Goa is a small place with an area of just 3702 square kilometers, which is smaller than a district in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Karnataka. Every inch of land needs to be preserved or else we will be left with nothing but concrete for posterity.